States across the nation are grappling with recent developments in the ever evolving legal landscape surrounding marijuana use. States like Colorado and California have legalized marijuana for medicinal use and allow carefully regulated dispensaries to sell their products legally to a select customer base. Yet, at the Federal level, the growing, selling and possession of marijuana is still a crime. How and when the Federal authorities decide to prosecute crimes involving marijuana in states who have legalized its use often seems just as arbitrary as the laws surrounding the plant.
In Morro Bay, California, Charles C. Lynch learned the hard way that the legal debate about marijuana is far from settled. In 2006, Mr. Lynch opened a medical dispensary in his small town. He carefully researched the issues involved and how he must operate to comply with the complex statues in place. The mayor and members of the local chamber of commerce were all present to celebrate opening day. Displayed on the wall were the conditions for his business license, mainly, not selling to customers under 18 and complying with California’s medical marijuana laws. Mr. Lynch had spent nearly a decade working in the computer software industry before opening his new business. He was excited to be a part of a new and developing industry and had benefited from medical marijuana use to treat his debilitating migraines in the past. A former three-term mayor of Morro Bay described Mr. Lynch as a soft spoken, nice guy. She said she handed out her card to neighboring businesses when the dispensary opened and asked them to report any problems. There was not a single complaint.
Today, Mr. Lynch is a convicted felon. Despite complying with state law, he was convicted of multiple felonies under federal law for selling marijuana. The problem is that federal law still treats marijuana as a controlled substance in the same category with heroin and makes no exception for medical uses. The judge presiding over his case said Mr. Lynch made every effort to obey the law and there was no evidence he had any knowledge that an employee had made secret sales on the side or that some of his customers had received prescriptions by false pretexts as alleged by federal investigators. The judge declined to impose federal prosecutors’ request for a mandatory five year term but said he had no choice but to sentence Mr. Lynch to a year and a day. “Individuals such as Mr. Lynch are caught in the middle of the shifting positions of government authorities,” the judge stated during sentencing. Mr. Lynch is appealing his conviction.
While some states are changing their marijuana laws, Ohio still criminalizes all sales and possession of marijuana. A sale of any amount of marijuana is a felony in the state of Ohio. The law designates a sale under 200 grams as a felony of the fifth degree punishable by up to 12 months in prison. As the amount involved increase, the felony level and penalties also increase. For example, a sale of more than 200 grams but less than 1000 grams is a felony of the fourth degree punishable by up to 18 months in prison.
In Ohio, possession of marijuana under 200 grams is a misdemeanor while possession of more than 200 grams but less than 1000 grams is a felony of the fifth degree. As with the trafficking statute, the felony level and prison exposure increases as the amount of marijuana possessed becomes greater. Growing marijuana is treated as possession in Ohio and can carry the same penalties. Simply having drug paraphernalia on or near your person is a misdemeanor and selling paraphernalia is also a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail. There may also be collateral consequences for a drug conviction. Any drug conviction can result in a driver’s license suspension for a period of 5 months to 6 years. There are also court fees assessed for a defendant’s case that can be tacked on to any fine. The use, sale and cultivation of marijuana in Ohio is still a very expensive crime.
If you need a lawyer for a criminal or Federal case, call Attorney W. Joseph Edwards (614-309-0243) who has over 25 years experience representing clients in these legal matters.